I always thought “Budapest” sounded like an exciting and exotic place. Probably because it kinda rhymes with Marrakech. This was my first time visiting Hungary, and the photos from travel blogs and hungarian sausage, my sole exposure to Hungarian cuisine, promised an interesting weekend.
Endre, our tour guide from the free walking tour we stumbled across (we were meant to join a different group), shared that the correct pronunciation of his beloved city is ‘Budapesh’. He told us how the Hungarians are actually Mongol descendants, but through their history, welcomed several migrants from neighbouring countries. Similar to Germany, it’s been through the pains of the Holocaust and Communism. He also said that most buildings in Budapest are made to look old, but are probably not more than 150 years old.
10 Bewilderment at the House of Terrors – A couple of mixed reviews about this place. Despite our tour guide’s warning about needing a jewish walking tour first before visiting the House of Terrors, we went anyway, intrigued by this place which was both the headquarters of the Nazis during the war, and the Communists after. Several people were detained and tortured here. It’s about four floors of interesting displays. Lots of running videos, photos of victims and victimisers. The best part was the free leaflet in each exhibit, with paragraph after paragraph of explanation which we could not be bothered to read. There weren’t a lot of English translations on the exhibit themselves. By the end of it, we weren’t really sure what was going on. Lesson learned: Listen to the tour guide!
9 St. Matthias – On the outside, this church looks gothic and had some Russian elements to be (colourful, tiled roofs). Quite a pretty sight!
8 Climbing up Castle Hill – I’ve accepted that athleticism is not my strong suit, so the climb up Castle Hill wasn’t easy peas-y to me. I had to stop a few things to catch my breath, and I was at the tail end of the group, as expected. The view at the end of the walk was rewarding! The Parliament, the Danube, Pesh… picture perfect!
7 Money, money conversions – This trip wasn’t particularly well organised, and as such, we weren’t even remotely aware of the exchange rate of the local currency (the HUF, Forint) into pounds or euros. The airport currency exchange place said they bought 1 pounds for 288 HUF. Hmm. Not exactly the easiest of conversions! I ended up withdrawing 50,000 HUF, and we struggled a bit computing if a dish, a bottle of water, an attraction ticket, was relatively expensive or not. In the end, we just set benchmarks (like a main course of 2,000 HUF is actually not so bad).
6 The Danube and shoes – The Danube river runs through 6 countries. In Hungary, it separates Buda and Pest. Days before we arrived, the news was filled with reports of the river overflowing and flooding in the city! Keysi emailed our hotel if they were flooded, and the Bohem Art Hotel reassured her that things were fine. We got a great view of the Parliament, Castle Hill, the bridges and the many interesting buildings Strolling along the Danube. I also liked this memorial of shoes, by the river bank, which commemorated the jews who were thrown into the icy river during the Holocaust.
5 Having a cup of coffee at the Bookshop (Paris Gallery) – Lots of nice cafes around the city. We were tempted to visit the New York Cafe, which boasts of great interiors too. We ended up visiting the Alexandra bookstore, which the nice Bookshop Cafe at the top floor. The painted ceilings and comfy leather seats made for great ambience whilst we drank our cold coffee drinks. I sampled a traditional hungarian savoury baked treat which had pumpkin seeds.
4 Drinking a cold glass of Dreher – We tried two local beers during the trip, and I must say I love Dreher! It’s light and kind of sweet. I don’t know if my very warm feelings for it have something to do with us drinking a cold glass of it after a three hour walking tour. It went really well with the gypsy pork chops I had for lunch, which of course, had a side of paprika sauce.
3 Zeller Bistro dinner – Zeller Bistro sits as Trip Advisor’s number 1 restaurant in Budapest. So we just had to check it out. We took our chances on a busy Saturday evening, sans-dinner reservation. The waiter was super nice and accommodated us. We had an hour and 20 minutes to have a our dinner. And what a dinner it was! It started with a complimentary glass of elderflower sparkling wine, which was divine! From starters to dessert, our food was cooked very well, and the flavours simple and spot-on. Keysi’s salmon was perfectly cooked! We finished off with THE famous carrot cake, which had lots of walnuts, and a few other surprise ingredients. Service was pretty great and we could not complain about anything.
2 The bridges of Budapest – Several bridges connected Buda and Pest, and the green bridge greeted us on our first night. We crossed the bridge, and was met by fellow tourists who were having a wander like ourselves, or just hanging around and enjoying the cool breeze from the Danube. We crossed the Chain Bridge, said to be the most popular one in the city, the day after. It kind of reminds me of Tower Bridge. I love how these bridges are illuminated at night and just makes for great photos.
1 Szimpley Kert Market – In a word… eclectic! I’ve never been to a place quite like it before. It’s one of the many ‘ruin pubs’ in the city. This one was kitschy, weird, and pleasant all at the same time. I think this is a proper bustling pub at night, but on Sunday’s, it’s sort of a farmer’s market where local growers sell various cheeses, meat products, honey, fruits, and veggies. There seemed to be good mix of locals and tourists.